On September 24th, 2014, a brand new blues album was released into the world. That album was Joe Bonamassa’s 11th solo studio effort Different Shades of Blue. Since that time, the grooves on my copy of the CD have become well worn. Ok, I don’t think CD”s actually have grooves but you get what I mean. I’ve listened to this album a whole lot, as have blues fans all over the world.
Different Shades of Blue is a really special album for Joe Bonamassa fans, because it’s Joe’s solo album of all original material. Well… almost all original material. Interestingly, the record opens up with an extremely short introductory track, which happens to be a Jimi Hendrix cover, a cut from the posthumous album Rainbow Bridge.
The original Hendrix tune is a full length song, a long one, too, clocking in at a chunky 6:05. Joe’s version is extremely reduced and covers the instrumental-only first minute of the original. Joe’s version is a little bit more two-fisted, muscular, in your face aggressive, setting the album off to a blazing start immediately. And truthfully, I love it! This is classic-rock-meets-blues with hints of a grungy tone at its finest. Despite the humor in the fact that Joe began an all-original album with an intro track that happens to be a cover, it really gets things cookin’ with gas right away and was a great choice as album opener.
The album features some of the finest musicians imaginable including Reese Wynans, formerly of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, on organ and piano, Anton Fig on drums, Carmine Rojas and Michael Rhodes on bass, Lenny Castro and also Fig on percussion, names most likely very familiar to those that follow Joe Bonamassa’s live shows as well as side projects like Rock Candy Funk Party. Sometimes a band in the studio can start to feel a little bit stale, but not here – they bring every bit the amount of energy they do to the lives shows, and that’s a lot, right into the studio as well. No wonder Joe love playing with these guys.
One year later, it’s pretty plain to see that Different Shades of Blue has been a great success on every level. Not only was it a #1 Billboard blues album, a pretty regular occurrence for Joe, but it made it all the way to #8 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart – amazing! It’s a testament to the loyalty and fervor of Joe’s incredible fan base, a group of which I am thrilled to be a tiny part of. It’s also been a huge hit with the fans, both as a studio set and as a collection of songs that have been added to Joe’s live repertoire. And with the Live at Radio City Music Hall album coming out on October 2nd, we’ll get to hear quite a few more of these tracks live, on CD – can’t wait!
As to the music itself, well… there’s so much to say about it. The leadoff song proper on Different Shades of Blue is the riveting, genre-bending “Oh Beautiful!” Leadoff tracks are crucial to the overall success of an album. Without a grand slam beginning, a listener may already begin to lose some interest. On the other hand, a great leadoff whets the appetite for more and really sets the tone of what it is you are trying to do with an LP. Fortunately for us, “Oh Beautiful!” is a truly exceptional start. And a year later, I love it even more than I did the first few times I listened to it. It’s a really special track.
After the overdriving guitar of “Hey Baby,” the smooth, honey-sweet acapella that leads off “Oh Beautiful!” is an abrupt shift in tone that one doesn’t really expect, but that works perfectly. In Joe’s discussion of the track, which you can read here, he mentions the delta blues inspiration for the acapella portion of the composition. I love the throwback to the early blues tradition, and also the nod to the structural form of the Led Zeppelin classic “Black Dog.”
The song then launches into a muscular, bone-crunching Zeppelin-esque riff, with the guitar, organ and bass attacking together in an enthralling overlay of octaves, to which you can’t help but get up and start nodding your head and grooving. At the same time, Anton Fig owns a perfect John Bonham beat that can’t be shaken.
The centerpiece of this thrilling track is the soul-shaking guitar solo that Joe rips in the middle. The guitar soars and swoops and destroys everything in its path, and when Joe says to us that the solo “gets nuts,” he ain’t kiddin’. The rapid fire attack he hits at 3:50 is mind blowing, and when the bands finally breaks back into the main riff at 4:25, the effect is positively euphoric. Ok, I could go on and on about that track, but let’s suffice it to say that I think it’s astonishing and has become one of my all-time Bona-favorites.
The rest of the album isn’t too shabby either, especially the next track, “Love Ain’t a Love Song.” To me, this song is all about the hook. First of all, what a great title and lyric! Love surely is more intricate and mystifying than your characteristic love song. And the choral melody devised for this clever line is catchy, melodically and harmonically gratifying, and really serves as the backbone of the entire song. The beat is danceable and fun, and the whole song has a bit of a nice pop sheen over it – I don’t use the word “pop” here in any sort of derogatory sense by the way. I just mean that this song is first-single caliber stuff – I could hear this all over the radio, even with the nostalgic horn punches and blues oriented guitar solo. Speaking of which, I don’t know how Joe makes that sound at 2:45 but it’s groovy. To quote Joe on this one, “It’s pretty funky.” Yep.
– Brian R.